For Sale By Owner Insanity: A Rant

For Sale By Owner Insanity - picture of for sale sign in front of house

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Okay, first of all, I have no problem with people trying to sell their house without a realtor.  Realtors are incredibly expensive and can be painful to use if you don’t have a lot of equity in your home.  We just sold our home a month ago and chose to use a realtor despite the fact that she charged 6% of the sale price of our home ($9,600).  We decided to go that route because:

  • we wanted to sell our house within a short timeframe
  • we don’t currently have the time to properly market our home
  • houses in our area tend to take forever to sell
  • we have a personal relationship with a realtor that we know and trust

If we weren’t in a hurry to sell and move, we might’ve considered sticking a sign in our yard to see what happened.  Maybe.

However, there is one thing I will not do.  I will never buy a home that is for sale by owner again.  Why? Let me explain….

Our Current Home

When we stumbled upon our current home, it was for sale by owner.  When I called the number on the sign, I learned that the woman selling the home had inherited it from her mother.  Just for fun, let’s call the seller Fran.

Fran was difficult throughout the entire process.  First of all, she got very offended when we told her that we wanted to have a home inspection done.  We finally got her consent, but that was only because I told her repeatedly that I could not buy the home without having it inspected for major problems.  She took it very personally.  In addition to not wanting us to do a home inspection, Fran argued with us about everything from property taxes to possession and was basically an enormous pain-in-the-ass.  An adorable, soft-spoken, polite pain-in-the-ass.  When we initially told Fran that we couldn’t pay asking price because the house needed some updates, she would yell at us.  “That house don’t need no updating!”  And, keep in mind, most of the downstairs had blue indoor/outdoor carpeting that was literally glued to the floor with no padding.  Ummm……yeah.  We ultimately won that battle but it was probably not even close to worth it in retrospect.

Fran’s Family Might be Crazy

One day, I ended up in line behind Fran’s brother at Walmart.  After a few awkward moments of silence, he whispered something to me….

“There’s at least $10,000 hidden in your house.”

“Whaaa?”  I had no idea what he was talking about.

“If you let me search for it, I’ll split it with you,” he said.

There was no way in hell I was going to let him search my house for money so I drove straight home to tell Greg.  That night, we tore our house apart looking for places where money could be hidden.  And, even after finding a hidden attic entrance that we didn’t know about, we came up empty-handed.

However, I didn’t want people to think that there was money in my house.  People have been robbed for much less than $10,000 after all, and I have kids.  So, I called Fran’s brother and told him that he could come over and search.  When he showed up, he headed straight to the hidden attic entrance to look for the cash.  And…..nothing. 

After all of those shenanigans, I decided that I never wanted to know who we were buying from again.  I didn’t want to deal with direct negotiation or any potential craziness.  I just wanted to buy a house through a realtor and let them deal with any issues.

More FSBO Madness

Since we’re moving, we’re currently back in the real estate game.  At this point in our house search, it seems like we’ve looked at every house in our price range.  So, the other day, I checked out to see if there were any houses that met our criteria.

And, there it was.  The perfect house in the perfect neighborhood.  It was exactly what we were looking for at exactly the price we were willing to pay.  So, I called the owner listed on the website in order to set up a showing.  Let’s call this person Ted.

Me: “Hi.  My name is Holly Johnson.  We’re interested in looking at the house you’ve got listed on  Can you tell me more about it?”

Ted proceeds to tell me about the house.  It has three bedrooms and two baths.  The formal dining room has been turned into an office space with custom shelving and a built-in desk.  The house has a new roof and a new furnace.  Blah blah blah…..

Then, he said something slightly disconcerting.

“We had someone back out of buying our home at the last minute once.  Since then, we’ve been a little hesitant to let people see it.”


Ted and I talked for a few more minutes.  Then, at a certain point, I asked when we could come and check it out.

“Well……ummm……..I’m not really sure about that.”

“That’s fine,” I said.  “This weekend will probably work if you can’t do it before then.”

“Well, I’ll ask my wife but I can’t make any promises,” said Ted.  “I’m not sure what kind of timeline we’re on.”


Ted took my number and said he would call me and let me know when we could see the house.  But, he never did.


I thought the whole thing was really weird.  That was, of course, until I did some research and realized that Ted’s house had been listed for sale FOR TWO YEARS! 

TWO YEARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I can tell you what timeline you’re on, Ted.  You’re in this game for the long haul.  Your house is never going to sell if you’re unwilling to let people see it.  Period.

Have you ever bought a house directly from the seller?  Or, have you ever sold your house on your own?   Please share your experience by commenting below.

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  1. While I haven’t bought a house from an owner, I have heard of some pretty crazy experiences, from owners who didn’t want to move even when the papers have been signed to others who just dragged their feet all along the process. Its annoying, its inconveniencing and if I were to hazard a guess, well, homes/houses tend to have a rather huge sentimental value…I guess parting with one is hard.
    If I were in the market for a house though, I would shoot straight for the realtor…she might charge an arm and leg but most of the nagging hassles will be taken care of.

    1. I don’t mind paying for a realtor since we’re so busy right now. If we weren’t in a hurry to move, I might’ve tried to FSBO.

  2. WOW, I’ve bought and sold several houses but not by owner. Doubt I ever will, now… maybe the owners who are selling by themselves should have to disclose whether they’ve done this before or not?

    1. Ha! Maybe. But, at this point I think it’s going to be quite a while before they sell.

  3. Yeah, I looked at a house once that was a short sale. Even though there was a realtor, the owner stood over the whole time and watched every move. And they wanted to rent back the house for 6 months…ok, you haven’t paid the mortgage for a year and I am going to trust you to pay rent? Don’t think so. I think people can lose all sanity around selling their house. And most if not all can’t distance themselves enough to sell it themselves.

    1. LOL, that’s funny. They couldn’t pay their mortgage but they could pay rent???

      1. That actually is very believable scenario. A lot of homeowners stopped paying their mortgage when their homes were underwater, because they couldn’t get the bank to negotiate otherwise. Doesn’t mean they couldn’t pay the rent. my husband’s brother did that–they didn’t pay a mortgage for like a year and a half, and their house was finally sold, and now they rent from the owner for even less than what their mortgage was.

  4. Oh my gosh! These stories are crazy – $10,000 hidden in a house??? Oh man…I think there is a reason why people use realtors, and this is definitely one of them. How do you not let people see your house if it’s for sale? Very strange people.

    1. He also told me to check in the paint cans in the garage. Ha!

  5. I sold one house without a realtor….to an attorney no less. He had the sales contract which in my state is a standard form, so it was a seamless process. Also, the buyers were the actual tenants who were renting the place from me, so selling it as is was no problem since they knew more about the house than I did. However, in normal circumstances I would never sell by owner again.

    Funny story, when we were selling my mother-in-law’s house when she went into assisted living, she asked if she’d have to let people see it. She just didn’t see why anyone would need to see her perfect house. Course she was suffering from dementia so maybe your “Ted” was older as well.

    1. Awwwww……poor thing. She was probably sad to leave it!

  6. People are so weird, aren’t they? If we ever came across a FSBO we just had to have, we’d get a realtor involved. Most realtors here will step in and kind of take over for you in a FSBO deal for 3%. If the seller said “no” to paying the 3%, we’d move on.

    1. Yeah, I guess I don’t want to buy it that bad. Ha!

  7. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

    That’s all sorts of crazy. For very similar reasons, when we were looking for a house to rent, I refused to rent directly from the owner rather than through a property management company. Who knows how crazy people are and who knows if they’re actually going to fix crap when it breaks?

    1. I would be hesitant to rent from someone if they didn’t have any experience as a landlord as well. But, it wouldn’t bother me if they did.

  8. Dang! I wish you guys found the 10 Gs!!! But if he did…. what if he whipped out a knife on you guys or something? Money does crazy things to crazy people!

    Does FSBO have the official documents for both parties to sign and walks folks through the entire process for closing?

    1. I have no idea how FSBO works and I have a feeling I’m not going to find out. Ha!

      The reason that I knew Fran’s brother in the first place was because we did a few funerals for people in his family (when I worked at the mortuary). So, I felt comfortable letting him in my house for the most part!

  9. I think people, especially older people, get offended when you look at their house and don’t like something about it. They have an emotional attachment with it and don’t want anyone else to criticize it. Personally, I would never sell a house on my own. You don’t get the exposure you need when you try to sell yourself. I’d be more than happy to hand over 7% to a real estate agent for their work.

    1. Me too, although she knocked her rate down to 6%. Woohoo!

  10. Yikes! I’m glad we dealt with realtors on both sides when we bought our house. It does sound like older individuals who want to sell by owner, though, are always just a complete pain/slightly crazy. My coworker’s mom recently sold her house this way, and my coworker was constantly telling us about all the crazy things the family had to talk the mother out of doing. At least in that case, the rest of them were fairly sane!

  11. The story about the brother and the money made me laugh out loud! I get why you’d let him search. What a crazy guy. I can’t even imagine not being able to see a house just because once upon a time somebody backed out of buying it. These people seem crazy.

  12. My friends bought a house FSBO on craigslist! The process was seamless and the house is immaculate. I don’t know how they found such great, normal sellers, but it totally worked out for them.

  13. I posted about not sure whether I need a buyer’s agent, but I think to sell a house, a seller’s agent is useful. You want to be listed in MLS right? Plus, I’ve heard stories about owner’s taking things personal since that is their home, so that is not good for negotiations. And it is even worse when the FSBO homeowner doesn’t know what he/she is doing. Of Course you need to do an inspection!! Every home buyer needs to do that…it’s just part of the process. No need to get offended!

    1. The woman we bought our house from was VERY offended by our initial offer. It really wasn’t that low… but she had already rejected a higher offer several months before, lowered the price about $20K after buyers started to lose interest, etc. She had an agent but he was apparently out of town when we made our offer.

      Thankfully, our agent dealt with the crying/yelling for us. 😛

  14. I’ve met a few FSBO’s like that, those people who “want” to sell their house but never seem to, not fun! I think you were right with your first gut reaction to go only with someone selling through a Realtor.

  15. I sold my first home 7 years ago and it was a very painless experience. My mother in law works for a lawyer and did all the paperwork. Easy Peasy and saved myself the commission. Well worth it!!

    1. It sounds like you let people in to see it then??? =)

  16. This just goes to show that most people have too much attachment to their homes. They think they are worth more than people are willing to pay. I can see why some would get offended if you say that the hose needs updating. It tells them that their tastes are outdated. I considered selling our home like this, but I don’t want to deal with it.

  17. Oh man that is so creepy about the whispers in the grocery line!! I hope yall find your dream house soon!

  18. Obviously Ted didn’t really want to sell the house in the first place, but why keep it listed? I have no idea. Ugh, the whole process sounds complicated. And Fran and family just sound crazy!

  19. Creepy McCreeperson from grocery store crawling around in your attic…hahaha! Your experience isn’t that uncommon if you go the FSBO route.
    Not using a real estate agent can make sense as a seller (if you know what you’re doing), but as a buyer it usually doesn’t. For buyers, there is no direct cost to you by using an agent. My experience with FSBO sellers is they are typically not very motivated, waaay too attached to their house, and their asking price is whack.

    1. NOT TRUE. The buyer ALWAYS ENDS UP PAYING THE COMMISSIONS. It is built into the sale price. It is a con to say otherwise.

  20. Wow…You’ve experienced it all. From 10k hidden in your house to a dude who wants you to buy his house blindly. I have never bought a house but did not know it was that dramatic.

  21. haha, so far all three of our RE purchases have been from banks, and though some people don’t like it, we kindof do. “as-is” contracts are the best because you get your inspection, and you get to decide to take it or leave it. You can usually negotiate credits or a price reduction for any non-obvious damage that was discovered in the inspection, and then you get to fix them to your own specification and on your own timeline. Banks treat it like what it is – a business transaction.

    Re – $10K. We got told once by neighbors that the previous owners of our house claimed to have hidden $10K in it as well before they were foreclosed on… but nobody really believed them (they were the crazy ones of the block). So far we’ve had a lot of walls torn out at different times for construction, and have never come across so much as a dime hidden.

  22. Yes I purchased my house directly from my dad since he inherited from his mother. He paid for an inspection and for the repairs that needed to be don’t (which weren’t much since this house was built really well). I don’t know if I could buy one that way from a stranger tho

    1. If it’s a related-party sale, you definitely don’t need an agent because there’s already a buyer lined up. No sense in paying 6% commission to fill out some paperwork, haha.

      For normal (arm’s length) sales, real estate agents can definitely be helpful… sometimes even crucial, depending on the market and how much interest there is in your particular home. They are able to advertise to a much larger audience and have more time to schedule showings than the average FSBO seller.

  23. Wow that is a really weird story about the FSBO. I’ve never done FSBO, I think I would be too worried to mess things up.

  24. I always thought that FSBO sellers ended up with the same amount of money in their pocket in the end, but will all the extra work that the Realtor normally does.

    The buyer knows they are saving 6% so the ask for a 6% discount off the selling price. Most buyers are looking at multiple houses, most sold through Realtors. It’s an obvious bargaining tactic that submarines the seller in the end.

  25. You and Greg lead an interesting life, Holly. $10,000 hidden in your home? While it might have been fun if you found it, somehow I think it would have led to more dramatics with that family. 🙂 I have not bought or sold a home without a realtor and I don’t think I would. They are spendy but overall they are worth it. I wonder why Ted even had his home on the market since they really didn’t see to want to sell it. Strange. You get to meet all sorts of characters when you buy and/or sell a home.

  26. I could be wrong, but I think my parents sold our home themselves. I was 10 when it happened and I remember 1) it only took 3 weeks and 2) talk about saving money on a commission. We were moving out of the country at the time, so we weren’t going to be around to drive the people crazy! It’s a bummer you’ve had such negative experiences.

  27. People are crazy. Period.

    Also, FSBO has always seemed like a hassle to me, and the seller would probably not be as willing to negotiate. Third parties should always be involved in a transaction that big.

  28. At least the crazy brother didn’t want to jack hammer your kitchen floor to look for the treasure. Or what if he said there are bones buried in the backyard? OK, I’ll shut up now.

    But seriously, I would never sell a home without a realtor here in over-regulated CA. Too much paperwork that could be done incorrectly and liability on the line.

  29. When we were looking for houses in 2007, we found two houses we really liked that we’d narrowed it down to. One was the home we’re in now and the other was a FSBO house. We didn’t have any of the strange problems you had. They were very kind and had no problem showing us around. The biggest issue we had was price. They were asking an absolutely astronomical price, about 20% higher per square foot than anything else. We presented a realistic offer and they countered by lowering it maybe 2%. At that point we knew it wasn’t going to happen, and turned our attention to the other house, which as I mentioned we’re in now, so that worked out fine.

    As a post-script to the story, I later found out that they sold it for way less than we had offered, since they got caught in the 2008 crash by the time they were able to sell. As another post-script, they are now sending their son to the same pre-school that we do, so we’ve actually talked with them. We both remembered each other. They held no grudge that we walked away, though they did admit that they should have been more in tune with what was going on in the market…..which a good realtor would have helped with.

  30. That Ted is a really patient man. And probably has a treasure of his own hidden there – at least a couple of corpses :)) Pretty strange story and I am sure that nobody would buy a house they can’t visit.

    We also had recently an experience buying a farm house from the owner – she was no longer living in the area and wanted to sell. On the phone, she seemed an extremely pleasant person, but when we met face to face, she proved to be a little crazy. Plus, she had a much more expensive house on sale too (five times more expensive than the one we were looking at) and kept telling us how great that house was and how bad the one we’re buying is. Which probably is true if you are to compare any property with one that is five times more expensive 🙂 But we knew what we want, the cheap house ticked all our boxes and everything went fine, eventually.

  31. Hey Holly and once again thanks for a great post!!

    I have been enjoying your house hunting posts as it gives me – a confirmed apartment dweller – insight into what it takes to find a house you like. I truly find it amazing at how difficult it all seems to be. I hope you find your house soon and all the best.


    ps: the money is underneath the floorboards in the guest bathroom 🙂 Mums the word!

  32. Wow, how crazy! If you’re not going to let people look at your home, why bother wasting everyone’s time by having it listed? So strange. Thanks for sharing these stories, it will make me a bit more hesitant to ever consider buying from a seller directly. I think sometimes people put too much sentimentality into their homes when they should be viewing it as a business transaction. If things need fixing, it doesn’t matter how much emotional value the home has to you!

  33. “That house don’t need no updating!” That made me laugh out loud. My co-workers are looking at me a little strange right now. My craigslist experience with cars was pretty similar. I just didn’t really feel comfortable with any of the people I was talking to. There always seemed to be something slightly shady going on. Possibly my own biases, but in any case I didn’t end up investigating that route too hard because of it. Going through a reputable dealer I knew I’d be dealing with some slime but at least there was a level of professionalism.

  34. I’ve got a brother as crazy as your $10k guy. When we moved my parents into assisted living and put their 40 year old home up for sale, my brother did everything possible to interfere, including telling off the realtor who he believed priced it way to low (hello, 40 year old house never renovated) because they didn’t account for his emotional value of growing up in the home. There are plenty of loonies out there, including the ones we are related to! You definitely did the right thing by letting him in to have a look for the money.

  35. I completely get where you’re coming from. In the age of the internet, everyone thinks they can do a real estate agent’s job because they have access to public listing sites like Zillow, Trulia,, etc.

    Yes, some people are very capable and are able to sell their homes in a timely fashion without an agent or MLS listing. But there are many more who think they know everything, think they have the most amazing house that will “practically sell itself”… and end up failing miserably. (My neighbors are a perfect example, but that’s a story for another day.)

    Note: No, I’m not a real estate agent.

  36. The hidden money story is really funny/terrifying! We’ve never bought a FSBO house, but I’ll be careful if we ever find one we like. Thanks for the post!

  37. Oh my, that $10k hidden treasure thing is crazy… and I had a friend whose previous owner would sneak into her backyard for the fruit after she sold it (friend was on mat leave and caught her). I’m all for realtors, but mostly because I’m with one.

  38. I have had some similar experiences in trying to purchase rental property where people would not let us inside the house to look at it. No way I would ever purchase a property without a personal visual inspection and a certified professional inspection. It’s for reasons and situations like this that a realtor is often worth it.

  39. I never sold my home on my own, but probably could. I am real good at setting prices and negotiating, however I do not do it very often.

  40. I think that Realtors are totally worth the money that you pay them. It’s easy to think in today’s Zillowy world that you can do it all yourselves, but their real work starts AFTER you find the house. The amount of paperwork that needs to be coordinated between parties, all of the timeline negotiations around the various lenders, the fact that multiple deals will likely be chained together.. It all adds up to a giant cluster**** at pretty much every closing date.

  41. Last year I sold my parent’s lot, I used social media in selling our lot. I never expected within one day almost it had 10 prospective buyers called me because they’re interested in our lot. After surveying our lot they immediately paid it with gold cash.

  42. Yikes, that sounds like a nightmare! 🙁 Now I know why people work with realtors.

  43. I bought my rental from my wife’s coworker. Unfortuanately he had an agent so I represented myself and negotiated a 2% rebate for closing costs. Most agents have no idea what they’re doing.

  44. “$10,000 cash hidden in the house…let me come search for it” sounds like a scary nightmare (I can imagine creepy man peeking through the windows watching you to see if you find the “secret hiding spot”.)You can’t make that shit up lol. Great reasons not to deal with a direct seller!

  45. Tara @ Streets Ahead Living says:

    My dad had to sell my grandmother’s house (grandma was original owner but my dad moved in at 16 so not a lot of emotional attachment to house) to help pay for her long-term care in assisted living. My dad had sense so he ended up using his high-school best friend’s sister for a realtor, who was a realtor before she had kids and wanted to get back into the game. Sounds like a not great deal but she actually turned out to be a fabulous realtor and got the house sold. The reason the realtor was so important to my dad was because there were some crazy people who tried to buy the house and had so many picky issues at the end. In the state of New Jersey, you can BACK OUT 72 hours after closing. You would lose all your fees but how shitty is that to the seller? So the realtor did a good job of keeping the buyers happy along with my dad and my grandmother now has plenty in her savings to pay her crazy-expensive monthly care.

  46. That is one crazy story! Who does that?! and $10,000? It can get pretty scary.. It’s times like these that we all appreciate the existence of realtors.

  47. Ugh! I bought my first house a year and a half ago from an attorney who was wayyy to close to the family I was buying from- it took THREE attempts to close, and lots of arguing at the closing table. I got the same “people were living here for 40 years! This house doesn’t need to be updated” -mind you, the house is 113 years old, and still had *ragwire* (as in fabric insulated wire!!!!) and a toilet sinking through the second floor bathroom because they cut through the joist… so yes, I *gutted* the house after I bought it to make it safe. Also, there was a small leak in the basement went we looked at the house before closing- my realtor took pictures of the water and the seller’s attorney called me a liar and said it was a scheme to take more off the listing price- ??? so I guess I broke into the house I wanted to buy and put water in the basement, whaaa ???
    My other favorite was “We’re only selling the house because you seem like such a nice girl- we don’t have to sell it” -WHAT?! It was an Estate Sale because the previous owners died, and none of the kids wanted the house. The property taxes alone are incredibly expensive here.

  48. That’s some crazy experience 🙂 , I think ted may well be waiting another couple of years!

    We purchased our own home direct from the seller, and that went through fine, but I have heard some funny stories on FSBO websites

  49. I was just looking at a FSBO home for sale. The guy says he wants to take the copper pipe that is throughout the shop, which is attached to the walls, which will leave about 66 holes to patch in the sheet metal walls. He also is taking the car lift, which is bolted to the concrete floor with 1 inch bolts. This will cause chunks of broken cement that has to be properly patched and I would not know if it was done right until after the apparatus is removed. If not WHAT THEN? Also he wants to remove the large boulders from the various planters/flower beds around the property. He also wants to take the Koi pond rocks and pump and leave a hole. The guy is a fanatic about details that are so minute that are not meaningful to me. The guy is asking too much to boot. It will never sell as the guy would be a pain in the A–.

  50. Wonderful things here. Now i’m quite delighted to see your report. Many thanks exactly what anticipating contact anyone. Can you i implore you to decline me a mailbox?

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